I grew up on a small farm in the Ozark Mountains in northern Arkansas. We spent a lot of time outside, a result of the tiny house we lived in and the heat in the summer. We had goats and chickens, cats and dogs, and for a short time a horse that ate too much. We had a huge garden and my parents canned awesome picante sauce.
My grandmother lived about two miles away by dirt road or, straight up the mountain from our holler, about a half a mile. She was our closest neighbor. We lived in this remote place with rattlesnakes and tarantulas and ticks. We had a creek on our property, a frigid spring pouring out of the side of the mountain, trails, enormous rocks and caves. My grandmother would shoot poisonous snakes with her pistol and call my dad to come relocate the non-poisonous. An eight foot, jet-black rat snake comes to mind…It was a paradise of outdoor fun for myself and my brother and sister. We camped on the Buffalo National River and canoed during the summer. We played outside all the time. In the heat, the snow and the floods.
When I was 12 years old we moved to the eastern part of the San Francisco Bay Area and I rebelled. I wanted to fit in at my huge middle school, where I was called an Okie for my clothes and accent. I wanted to watch television, which I had to do at a friend’s house since we didn’t own one, and wear designer jeans. No more climbing rocks. No more building forts.
I begged my parents to leave me in our apartment or with friends while they went on camping trips, mostly to the San Mateo County coastside. My parents and my younger siblings (6 and 2 years old) were still attached to nature, but I shunned it. They wanted to play in the mud and be with our parents. I moved as far away from their exploration of the woods as I could.
After two years in the suburbs, we moved to a tiny village in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I attended the high school that my dad had teased me about on camping trips. “We’re going to send you there! Ha, ha!” When I was 14, they did.
All in all, it was great. I thrived in the small high school, where the coaches begged kids to play sports so the school would have a full team, where I knew everyone and they knew me, where I could rise to the top without being extraordinary. I still avoided nature-related trips and the seemingly endless hiking that my family did every day, but I grew to love the area and the community as a home base. My plan: study hard, go away to college, get a job in a high-rise in the city and live in a neat, clean apartment. Somewhere with sidewalks and no dirt.
All that happened. And, in the process, I met my wonderful husband and we had a daughter. We got rid of the television. We moved back to my tiny coastal town, where I knew everyone and our daughter could play in the dirt. We had a son. We bought a house in the mountains with a creek in the yard. We have neighbors on either side of our half acre, but no sidewalks. We have animals, plants, trees, dirt and bugs to entertain us. And, a neglected television in our basement, if we decide to watch a movie.
I don’t work in a high-rise. I work from home or in the office of a goat dairy, which is not spotless nor odorless, especially during kidding season. I get muddy, sometimes. We hike, we play at the beach. We hunt salamanders and mushrooms. We track bobcats and hope to find mountain lion tracks. We pull the van over to watch a hawk wrestle a snake on a telephone pole or to see a litter of baby skunks. These kids have changed my life. They’ve helped me rediscover what I abandoned in myself many years ago.
We decided to homeschool after exploring our options and deciding what is important to our family. This adventure has given us the time to be outside even more than if they went to a traditional school. We formed a nature study group based on the ideas of Charlotte Mason with a group of our homeschool cohorts. We recruited Tod Haddow about four years ago, when we realized it would be helpful to have an expert involved to educate both kids and parents.
We have enjoyed an incredible experience over the years, but in the spring of 2014, I realized how I had returned to my roots and how positive the experience has been. I want to share our experiences and help others connect with nature and make it a part of their daily lives. My kids and I inspire each other to take a deep breath and look around. Nature is calming and welcoming. It’s so fun to become aware of the details of the natural world around us, whether we look at a strict regiment of ants on a city sidewalk or put our hand next to a mountain lion track and recognize its size and power.